Wearing a shirt and tie, Aaron Stefanski looked totally different than the disheveled intoxicated man depicted in police photographs taken after he was arrested in May for driving his car with four children strapped to the hood.
Stefanski, 29, of the 200 block of East DeWald Street, told Allen Superior Judge Wendy Davis he regretted his actions every minute of every day since his arrest on May 7.
"I let alcohol make the decision for me," he said, adding he has not been able to see or talk to his children since his arrest.
But he admitted he deserved not to see his children right now, and asked that he be allowed to remain free from prison so he can continue working his two jobs and continue his treatment for alcohol addiction.
Police arrested Stefanski, and a friend, 30-year-old Jessica Clark, after the manager of the Belmont Beverage, 2116 Fairfield Ave., called police, having seen Stefanski secure four children to the hood with yellow tow straps.
A deputy U.S. marshal in the area heard the call over his police radio and saw the car, with the children strapped to the hood, headed south on Fairfield Avenue.
Three of the children – a boy, 4; a boy 5; and a girl, 6 – were Stefanski's. The other child, a 7-year-old girl, was Clark's.
Prosecutors charged Stefanski with three Class D felony counts of neglect of a dependent, as well as a Class D felony charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated. He pleaded guilty to those charges last month.
In exchange for his guilty plea, four misdemeanor charges of criminal recklessness, four child restraint infractions and an infraction for driving without insurance were dismissed Friday when he was sentenced in Allen Superior Court.
Stefanski's attorney, David Zent, asked Davis to consider Stefanski's relative lack of a criminal history. He has a misdemeanor conviction for carrying a handgun without a license. Zent said Stefanski took responsibility for his actions early on, and began addressing his alcoholism and took parenting classes.
The children's mother, Stefanski's ex-wife, told the court that he has been an excellent father, with the exception of this incident, and said he is beginning to put his life back together. She also asked for him to remain free from prison.
But Allen County Prosecutor Tasha Lee stressed the extraordinary potential for injury in Stefanski's actions, which drew national media attention to the city.
She reminded the court Stefanski was already drunk when he picked up the children, then went to the liquor store to buy more alcohol and decided to strap the children to the hood of the car because it sounded like fun.
As Lee talked, Stefanski closed his eyes. As Davis lectured him about the nature of his actions, Stefanski struggled to hold back tears and put his head on his folded hands on the table before him.
Davis said she found the facts of the case "incredibly aggravating," and reminded him of his duty to protect his children.
"They would have done anything you asked," Davis said.
Crafting a sentence that combined some charges together and put some charges one after another, Davis sentenced Stefanski to a total of four years in prison. But she suspended 2 1/2 years, and ordered that time to be served on probation.
She then allowed him to serve the remaining 18 months on home detention, which allows him to keep his jobs and continue his counseling.
Clark, 30, pleaded guilty in July to a single charge of neglect of a dependent and will be sentenced Monday.